BMI Report Cards Not the Answer

January 25, 2007

by Rochelle Davis, HSC Executive Director

There has been plenty of media coverage recently about the trend in schools districts reporting student body mass index to parents. Some states require schools to take this action while in other instances school districts are making this decision on the local level.

While it is important for parents to be aware of their child’s health status, I am not sure that this is the most important role for schools to play. Many schools provide students with access to unhealthy foods, use these foods to reward students, sell unhealthy foods to raise funds for schools and have limited opportunity for students to engage in physical activity.

It was interesting to note that the Pennsylvania school district mentioned in The New York Times story still had not made changes in its own policies and practices, other than some revamping of its cafeteria menu (though ice cream sandwiches and Rice Krispie treats are still available and bought by the handful).

Rather than spending valuable staff time and resources on recording BMI, school districts should follow public health guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and work toward making improvements in schools (visit the School Wellness Policies website, created by National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, for a look at sound policies that are based on CDC recommendations).

A report card to parents on how schools, the state legislature and the federal government measure up in meeting these guidelines seems to be a better solution.

Plus: According to a study published last year in Health Education Research, “although there are potential benefits to conducting screenings in schools, there is also the potential to do harm to the children who are identified as overweight.”